“I’d love to. I want to inspire others and let them know anything is possible,” said Lt. Danielle Cardwell, supervisor for the Department of the Army Security Guards within the Directorate of Emergency Services when approached about being featured in an article.
I first met Danielle at a Quarterly Awards Ceremony for the U.S. Army Garrison personnel. I took my seat next to Danielle and we started chatting. I asked her what she did at Fort Detrick and how she got here, and in a few short minutes I realized I had been presented with a unique opportunity to garner inspiration from a strong, intelligent and very focused woman. Danielle is someone who, as a single mother of three, has not only managed to complete her Bachelor of Science in health sciences but is also currently pursuing a dual master’s degree in cyber security and business administration.
Danielle was born in Washington, District of Columbia, and lived there until she was 11 years old, later moving to Hyattsville, Maryland with her mother. After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for two years, but due to financial circumstances she could not continue her education at UMES. Weighing her options, Danielle evaluated what she wanted to do since finishing college seemed impossible at the time. Coming from a military family, she knew she wanted to serve her country and wear the uniform with pride so she decided it was time to seize the opportunity and join the Army. Her father served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and seven of her uncles served in various branches of the armed forces. “I joined the U.S. Army on June 6, 2001, three months prior to 9/11,” said Danielle. “After meeting with the recruiter, I was able to finish my last semester at UMES on the delayed entry program… then I was off. My parents were very shocked, but in the end they respected my decision.”
Danielle was later honorably discharged from the military in 2002.
“I was expecting my first child, I had to put college on hold, I was out of work, and to top it off, I had to move back home until I was able to get on my feet again,” said Danielle. “I left home when I was 18, and lived in my own independent world. I felt no one and nothing could bring me down, but one thing I’ve learned about life is things happen. At first, we may feel that we’ve hit rock bottom, but God has placed various challenges in my path and taught me it’s OK to admit I need help.”
Danielle emphasized the importance of having a strong support system behind her.
“I had my family, my parents and the support of my dearest friends to get me through life’s challenges,” said Danielle. “I was determined to do anything to support myself and my son, so I began to write my list of short-term and long-term goals; keeping it posted in several places throughout my home to help me remember what I was trying to do and accomplish. Prayer and keeping God first helped me, especially when Ms. Post-Partum Depression came knocking on the door.”
Even though Danielle’s active duty military career was cut short, she continued to serve in the Army Reserves until 2007. During that time in the Army Reserves she also worked for several temp agencies and went on hundreds of interviews, finally finding a security guard opening at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“I thought, ‘hey why not?’ I used to do the same duties in the Army” said Danielle.
According to Danielle, joining the Army was the best decision she ever made. It taught her to live by the seven Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
“I was so shy growing up, always timid and scared to speak up for myself. But the Army truly changed me for the better,” said Danielle. “I owe the military and my parents, of course, a lot; my time serving molded and shaped me into the successful woman I am today.”
Fast-forward a couple of years and Danielle is in the middle of earning two master’s degrees. Crediting her father for her involvement in technology at a very young age, Danielle stated she has always had an interest in computers.
“Growing up I’d spend my summer vacations with my father, a retired computer programmer with the WRAMC, and before he would allow me to go outside and play, he made me get on the computer and open his Word Perfect tutorial book,” explained Danielle. “I’d sit there for hours practicing many tutorials. We live in a technology-based world in which our infrastructure is threatened and needs protection. We’re more vulnerable to threats, and I want to make a difference in our world and in our society by learning about various aspects and strategies to detect threats and protect cyber assets.”
I asked Danielle how she manages it all. Danielle attributes 10 specific philosophies to “staying sane” while juggling three children, a full-time job and schoolwork:
- Accept parental responsibility. It really bothers me how many parents simply do not want to accept this.
- Learn to fight loneliness: Reading, enjoying the outdoors and talking with friends and loved ones really help.
- Take it day-by-day. My mother loves telling me, “Rome wasn’t built in one day.”
- Learn to accept help: Accepting help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of love, responsibility and sacrifice--for my children.
- Say “Take a hike”: Negative people in your life will be critical and judgmental. I don’t tolerate it, and have learned to simply say: take a hike.
- Establish a support system: Family and close friends makeup my support system, which allows me to have peace of mind when they have to make decisions in my absence, due to school and working long work days.
- Believe in yourself and set an example: For me, it was finishing college; in 2013 I graduated from the University of Phoenix with a bachelor’s in health administration. I funded my own education, stayed up late at night doing homework and still got up to go to work. I was determined to finish and accomplish my goal. I have to believe in myself. My children are a reflection of me and I want them to have a better life than my own. My children have to see, through my emotions, words and actions, that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. They only have to believe they can do it.
- Pass down love, morals and values: Each and every day I tell my children I am proud of them and I love them. As a single parent, it’s critical to tell your children this; some children may feel as if the absence of the other parent is their fault. Giving them love and instilling them with morals and values will allow them to grow up and become adults who accept responsibility and make healthy decisions for themselves.
- Have a good cry: Having a good cry cleanses the soul.
- Take time for yourself: I learned to love myself and to acknowledge my health and well being are vital to my dreams coming true. Incorporating healthy eating and promoting a healthy lifestyle for my children and myself is critical. I have dreams of seeing my children graduate from high school and college, watching them get married and someday becoming a grandmother. My dreams will not be realized if I am in poor health.
While wrapping up the article I was reminded of Susan B. Anthony’s words when delivering a speech about those with whom she worked and the devotion they had to their cause. She ended her speech with these three words: “Failure is impossible.” These three words seem fitting for Danielle Cardwell’s life as well. With her proven support system, her determination to succeed and perseverance through tough times, failure is impossible.